Inside the Fertile Imagination of Jordan Taylor–AKA, Rodney Sandstorm

Photography Credit: photosbyjuha.com

Story by Steven Cole Smith • Photography as Credited • Illustrations by Sarah Young

 

I grew up super shy,” says Jordan Taylor, which may come as a surprise to his social media followers. “I was super quiet, super introverted. I was never comfortable around people.”

Then came the mullet. And Fonzie, his dog. And his alter ego, Rodney Sandstorm.

In the past six years, Jordan, 27, has become the king of motorsports social media, the darling of motorsports television. He made pace car driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. roll down his window to tell him he was “holding up the line.” He made Jeff Gordon sign Sandstorm’s left shoe (Dr. Scholl’s, white with stripes and Velcro straps). He was warned by Brad Keselowski to “stay away from my daughter.” He made broadcaster Darrell Waltrip call for security. All this on live TV.

NBC Sports called the super-shy sports car driver “an innovator and pioneer of social media.” To which Rodney Sandstorm would likely reply, “Hell yeah.”

Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

Racing Royalty

Perhaps explanations are in order.

Jordan Taylor and his older brother, Ricky, were born into a racing family: Their father, Wayne Taylor, twice won the Rolex 24 At Daytona as a driver and racked up multiple championships before retiring to form Wayne Taylor Racing, with SunTrust and then Konica Minolta as sponsors. Their car is the No. 10 Cadillac DPi-V.R, which now runs in the top Prototype class in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

It was natural that Ricky and Jordan would drive for their dad, and both have, but they’ve both driven for other teams as well. Jordan was a factory driver for Corvette Racing, for instance, and Ricky was hired to anchor the No. 7 Acura Team Penske Prototype, co-driving with Helio Castroneves and, for the endurance races, Alexander Rossi.

Jordan has been driving for the family team since 2014, and he’s now partnered with Dutch driver Renger van der Zande, who replaced Ricky in 2018. To say they’ve done pretty well is an understatement. They won the 2018 season-ending Petit Le Mans; the 2019 opener, the Rolex 24 At Daytona; and they came in second at this year’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.

Add to that Jordan’s previous wins. There’s the GTE-Pro victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2015–in six starts at Le Mans, he’s come in first, second, third, fourth and fifth. Then there’s the final Grand-Am championship in 2013, and the IMSA Prototype championship in 2017, the year his team won the first five races of the season, including Daytona and Sebring.

 

It Started With a Mullet

Since 2008, when he made his first professional start at Daytona at age 16, JordanTaylor has been earning respect on the track as well as off. In those early days, he was known as a cheerful, thoughtful, quiet guy, especially compared to the more outgoing Ricky.

That changed in 2013 with the mullet. If you’re too young to remember mullet-wearing legends like Billy Ray Cyrus and Joe Dirt, it’s a hairstyle characterized by Dirt’s description: “Business in the front, party in the back.”

For Jordan, it was somewhere between a promise and a threat when he announced on social media that he’d grow a mullet if he gained a certain number of followers by a certain time. “I didn’t get that many followers,” Jordan admits, sitting in the living room of his lakefront home in Orlando, “but I decided to grow it anyway.”

And he did. It did. The mullet took over. Jordan Taylor was the Driver With the Mullet. “I’d be walking through the airport and I’d see one guy turn and look at it, and he’d turn back to his friends, and they’d all turn around.” The mullet was a relic from olden times, a salute to the bygone days of Rod Stewart, Paul McCartney and half the male guests on “The Jerry Springer Show.”

But finally, it came time to bring out the scissors. On June 28, 2014, the mullet was gone, but not before Jordan raised more than $13,000 for charity. He missed the mullet, but his sponsors really did: “They weren’t happy when I cut it off. It had a life of its own.”

Meanwhile, Jordan began exploring the opportunities presented by social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. Using his phone’s camera and a simple editing program he found online for free, he began making videos. Of Jordan lip-syncing. Of Jordan dancing, sort of. Of Jordan’s classic Corvette Sting Ray. Of his photogenic 4-year-old dog, Fonzie, a star in his own right. (“He’s been on ESPN’s ‘SportsCenter’ a few times.”) Of people Jordan saw working out at the gym.

Oh, the gym.

“There’s a lady at the gym who does the craziest, weirdest stuff on the elliptical machine,” he says. That lady is actually a friend of his mother, and she loves the videos. But one of her working out on the machine kind of got away from Jordan. He posted it, then went somewhere with no inter-net access for a few days. When he got back, the phone rang: It was the manager of the gym. “We’re going to have to ask you to delete it,” he said.

“I looked at it, and it had a million hits. I don’t even know how they saw it, because they don’t follow me, but they did. So I deleted it.”

But Jordan didn’t know that another major Facebook page had picked up the video and posted it, “and now it has like 5 million hits. It was a lesson that once you put something out there, even if you delete it, it can live on.”

He was actually getting who-do-you-think-you-are death threats from people who thought he was body-shaming. Now he has Ricky, “who is more politically correct,” screen most of the videos before he posts them.

All of the videos are funny. Some are hilarious. And each one springs from the mind of Jordan Taylor: He doesn’t accept suggestions. Of the ideas he does have, maybe half actually get made into videos.

Of Jordan in a cardboard “stock car,” interspersed with clips from “Days of Thunder” and of Jordan actually driving an 800-horsepower 1974 Greenwood Corvette in a vintage race at Daytona.

Of Jordan as an IndyCar buck, conversing with the characters of the 2001 movie “Driven.”

Of Jordan as Rodney Sandstorm peddling Zeus Jeus, “the very first non-alcoholic, Capri Sun-based podium drink” for race winners too young for celebratory champagne.

Photography Credit: photosbyjuha.com

Enter Rodney Sandstorm

But who is Rodney Sandstorm? Jordan maintains that nobody, including him, can truly answer that question.

He created the character after his next-door neighbors moved away, thinking it would be funny to meet his new neighbors as an alter ego.

Rodney quickly morphed into a NASCAR superfan who trolls the pits at race time, first wearing a purple Hoosier Tire jacket but later sporting the Rodney Sandstorm ensemble the world seems to love: a cap, cutoff jeans, shield sunglasses and, most importantly, a vintage Jeff Gordon DuPont jacket from the golden days when Gordon led the Rainbow Warriors.

He looks like a goof, which is the point. Now Rodney has his own T-shirt and coffee mug, along with his own Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts. He shows up at select races, but Jordan is well aware that too much Sandstorm would be, well, too much.

Bottom line: With no public relations or advertising agency input, Jordan Taylor is fast becoming a star in motorsports–all because of his hobby, which is taking pictures and making videos. “There’s really no outside pressure involved. I wouldn’t do it unless I enjoy it. It needs to be organic, otherwise it feels forced, kind of awkward. At autograph sessions people are always asking for more, but that really isn’t my job. I just do it for me, and if they enjoy it that’s all the better.”

Not everyone does, though. “Kid could be the face of IMSA and sports car racing if he would act like an adult and be serious,” tweeted one fan.

Jordan laughs. That would mean giving up tweeting things like this: “I always feel bad when I see a bug on an airplane. He’ll never see his family again, and he won’t have any friends when he lands.”

Photography Credit: Dave Green

Fast Company

Speaking of his job, Jordan is taking his role as lead driver of the family Cadillac more seriously than ever. He was profoundly impressed by a couple of guest drivers that joined the team for the Rolex 24: For 2017 it was Jeff Gordon himself, and this year it was Formula 1 star Fernando Alonso.

“I learned so much from them,” he says. “Jeff has won everything in NASCAR. He didn’t need to race with us, but he was so professional. We tested at the road course at Charlotte, and he never stopped asking questions. It was a way to prepare himself. He wasn’t going to get in the car if he couldn’t benefit the team. He had never driven in the rain before, but during the Roar he forced himself to go out and learn.”

As for Fernando, “He’s so intense,” Jordan says. “He’s obviously one of the best of our generation. His first five laps in practice, he went flat-out, every single corner, on the edge. He puts himself in situations and trusts his ability and instinct to get him out of it. He races at the limit 24/7.”

Which got Jordan thinking: “I’m an endurance racer and have been from the beginning. I’ve had a lot of success, but that can get you into some bad habits. Every year at Daytona I go out and cruise at 75 percent of my capability and the car’s for 20 hours. Same at Sebring and Petit. You get so comfortable and so reserved to make it to the end–you don’t want to make mistakes and take unnecessary risks. It becomes a habit.

“This year, once I saw Fernando test, I knew I didn’t want to look stupid the one time I get a chance to drive with the guy, that I didn’t give it my all. I didn’t want to look bad in comparison.”

It lit a fire. “Every race I go to I’m going to be more like Alonso and push myself and the car.” Jordan did that at Sebring, and while he couldn’t quite catch Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Cadillac, he was barely a second behind in the closest finish in Sebring history.

So what’s left? More sports car racing, maybe some vintage racing, Australian Touring Cars and karting on the side, and one more box he hopes to check: “I’d like to do a road course race in NASCAR, either Xfinity or Monster Energy Cup, but it’s hard to get into that world.”

Rodney Sandstorm has plenty of friends in the NASCAR scene–seems like an introduction is in order.

Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

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Comments
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David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
12/13/19 9:37 a.m.

Just so no one coming here from the message board misses anything: Click here to read the entire article.

Thanks and enjoy. 

spacecadet
spacecadet SuperDork
12/13/19 11:53 a.m.

Jordan Taylor is the only racer who's social media feed I actually care about.

Between his driveway karting Wheel to Wheel shenanigans and the Rodney and Fonzie content it's always fun and amusing.

I am very excited to see him being brought into the Corvette factory team fold.

 

DeadSkunk  (Warren)
DeadSkunk (Warren) PowerDork
12/13/19 1:56 p.m.

The time he came up to Darrell Waltrip and the TV crew was hilarious. Darrell had no idea who he was.

 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
12/13/19 5:39 p.m.

So, a little behind the scenes on this. Steven was lined up to do the story, and I said that I could meet him at Jordan's house the day of the interview and handle the photography. Easy. I have known Jordan for a few years, and he's super-nice. 

So I get there, and Steven's running late--meaning I had extra Fonzie time! Steven finally got there, we did the interview, and it all went great. 

As we're wrapping up stuff, Jordan's like, So, wanna see the trophy room?

Sure.

It was one of the bedrooms in his house. (I saw "was" because he was in the middle of moving.) So we all walk down the hall, he opens the door, and we're greeted by all of the major trophies in motorsports: Le Mans, Daytona, Sebring, World Challenge. And he's totally chill about it--almost bashful. He has drawings that fans have made, too. Despite all of the achievements, he was still rather humble about the whole thing.

Then we visited his new house (up the street), and I got to hold the Rodney jacket. It's heavier (weight-wise) than you'd think. 

white_fly
white_fly HalfDork
12/13/19 6:20 p.m.

scs
scs New Reader
12/16/19 1:29 p.m.

In reply to David S. Wallens :

Like David said, we did this story not too long before his move to the Corvette team was announced. That'll start with the Roar Before the 24, coming up, I think, January 4-6, in the brand-new mid-engine Corvette (which, in regular consumer trim, is pretty amazing). Brother Ricky will be back in the Penske Acura Prototype (meaning the brothers will no longer be racing against each other). Jordan is being replace in the family-owned number 10 Cadillac by Ryan Briscoe, one of the drivers who lost his job when Ford and Ganassi folded the Ford GT. Also, me being late is just par for the course.

 

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